Polk psychiatrist pleads to sexual misconduct involving a patient
By Suzie Schottelkotte
September 30, 2019
BARTOW – A former psychiatrist at Peace River Center who surrendered his state medical license in February 2017 on allegations of inappropriate sexual relations with a patient has pleaded no contest to a criminal charge of sexual misconduct by a psychotherapist.
Circuit Judge Neil Roddenbery sentenced Robert Morgenthal, 69, on Friday to two years’ probation, mirroring the terms of plea agreement with prosecutors. The charge, a second-degree felony, carries up to 15 years in prison, but under state sentencing guidelines, Morgenthal’s case did not call for prison time, Chief Assistant State Attorney Jacob Orr said.
The plea agreement also prohibits Morgenthal, of Orlando, from working in the medical field while he’s on probation.
Morgenthal was arrested in May 2018 on allegations that he had sent sexually explicit text messages to a 41-year-old female patient being treated for depression, alcohol abuse and possible bipolar disorder, according to a Department of Health report.
“Many of the text messages from (Morgenthal) were instructions for (the patient) on sexual activities he desired (her) to engage in with him or at his direction,” the February 2017 report stated.
The texts were sent in October and November 2015, and the two had engaged in sexual activity during that time, the report stated. Florida law states that a physician can be disciplined for exercising influence with a patient for the purpose of engaging the patient in sexual activity, according to the report.
State Department of Health reports show that Morgenthal had voluntarily relinquished his license to practice medicine in December 2016, and the state Board of Medicine formally accepted it two months later. He was first licensed in September 2002.
According to his arrest affidavit, Morgenthal had faced similar allegations while working at an Orlando clinic in 2013, which led him to voluntarily surrender his license in November of that year. A year later, in November 2014, he rescinded his voluntary relinquishment and was hired at Peace River Center’s Lakeland clinic, the affidavit stated.
The mother of a Peace River Center patient filed a complaint against Morgenthal in February 2015 alleging he had made inappropriate comments to her, saying she needed to “doll herself up to be more attractive,” the affidavit stated. He offered her money toward that end, which she told authorities made her feel like “he was soliciting her like a prostitute.”
That same month, Morgenthal told a patient he was getting aroused just talking about her sex life, according to the affidavit. She filed a complaint, as well.
Morgenthal resigned from Peace River Center in February 2016, the affidavit stated, and four months later, the state Department of Health issued an emergency order prohibiting him from practicing medicine in Florida.
A Polk County arrest warrant was issued for Morgenthal in August 2017, but he wasn’t taken into custody until May 2018 in Orange County. He was released from the Orange County Jail after posting a $1,000 bail, court records in Polk County show.